Our relationships, teams and workplace cultures are built (or damaged) one conversation at a time. What we do and don’t talk about is reflective of our values, leadership and culture. Conversations are happening all day everyday with people inside and outside our business but how conscious are we of how we’re having these conversations?  

Meaningful conversations are not always easy, but they are an investment. There’s no guarantee of having the right conversation, at the right time, in the right way – we’re human after all.  

Here’s a few tips on having effective conversations in your workplace.  A great way to remember these is with REAL: 

Reason for the conversation 

  • Start by getting clear about the purpose of the conversation and what you want to achieve 
  • Recognise how you feel about having this conversation and what preparation you might need to do beforehand 
  • Communicate with the other person why you’re having the conversation so that everyone can get on the same page from the beginning, rather than wandering aimlessly through a conversation wondering when you’ll arrive at the destination. 

Engage with the other person 

  • Adopt a curiosity mindset so that you’re in the conversation to learn and understand.  
  • Bring the other person into the conversation by asking questions that are open and provide the space for the person to respond. 
  • Really listen. Don’t just wait to talk. Be present and practice mindfulness in the conversation. Giving someone your full attention is the greatest form of respect in a conversation.  

Aim for understanding 

  • Aim for understanding, rather than being understood. Communicate what the other person needs to hear, rather than what you want to tell them – there can be a significant difference.  
  • Before, during and after the conversation, consider what the other person’s perspective might be and ask yourself ‘how might they feel about this’ or ‘what are they likely to think about this’? Empathy creates connection.  
  • Check in throughout the conversation to ensure that you understand them, and they understand you. Ensure that at the end of the conversation you both understand what, if anything, needs action.  

Learn through reflection 

  • We learn through reflecting on experience. Each conversation is an opportunity to learn about ourselves, others and leadership.  
  • Take a few moments to reflect on the conversation by considering what went well, what you would do differently next time, and whether there is any follow up required?  
  • Reflection is our greatest learning tool so don’t keep it to yourself. Ask your team at the end of a meeting or conversation what they thought. Create a habit of reflection.  

Real conversations get us real outcomes. They build connection, understanding and insight. Next time you’re having a meaningful conversation, be conscious of these four elements and see what the experience and outcome is like. Our conversations are far more than just what we say.  

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters – Margaret Wheatley.